by Ron Bernthal
In April, 2011, one month after parts of northern Japan were devastated by an earthquake and tsunami, the Taiwan-based carrier, China Airlines, began its long-planned, three times per week service from New York’s JFK Airport and Taipei’s Taoyuan Airport (TPE), via Osaka, Japan. Previously, the JFK/TPE flight was operated via Anchorage, Alaska.
This was a surprising corporate move when it occurred in April, as many air carriers were then decreasing capacity to Japan due to the loss of business and leisure passenger traffic following Japan’s environmental disaster in the Sendai region. For New York and Osaka-based passengers, however, the new non-stop flight between these two cities could not have come at a better time, enabling both New York and Osaka-departing passengers to avoid the often time-consuming air or rail transfer in Tokyo. The new route will certainly help boost commercial and tourism links between the East Coast and the Kansai region of Japan.
Check-in at China Air’s business class ticket counter at JFK was fast and efficient, and I was directed to their business class lounge, located past the security checkpoints near the Air France boarding gates. The spacious lounge, with its two-story, floor-to-ceiling slanted windows, was filled with natural light, comfortable leather chairs, and friendly staff. A small, self-serve buffet-style eating area offered wraps, ramen, cookies, and drinks. Computers were available for passenger use, and free Wi-Fi for personal laptops. Although there were plenty of magazines to read, most were in French (the lounge is shared with Air France), but English-language newspapers were available as well.
Boarding was started about 40 minutes before the scheduled 3:25 pm departure, and as passengers filtered into the aircraft they were greeted with Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” playing softly throughout the plane. The interior business cabin décor, with its purple seats, dark pink arm rests, and calm, smiling flight attendants provided a quiet and relaxed ambience that lasted throughout the 13 hour, 40-minute flight. China Air’s business class seating in the newly reconfigured 747-400 aircraft offers 70 business class seats in either upper-deck (2×2) or lower-deck (2x3x2), with 60-62 inch pitch, and a recline of 140-degrees, quite comfortable for this long-haul flight. Adjustable LED, swivel-arm reading lights, and electronically controlled seat adjustments add to the comfort level. Push-back was at 3:15, and wheels were up at 3:40, just 15 minutes behind schedule.
Dinner was served shortly after lift-off, from a menu conceived by China Airlines’ Executive Chef, Sara Lin, whose background includes work at several top-notch restaurants and hotels, including Per Se and Le Bernardin in New York City, and the Grand Hyatt Taipei. The appetizer consisted of seared yellow fin tuna with crushed black pepper, and seared prawn with wasabi mayonnaise. The main course of tilapia and prawn with tomato, baby zucchini, baby carrots, and linguine with mustard cream sauce, was presented in a lovely designed bento box, so beautifully displayed that the food looked like museum-quality artwork. The two desserts, chocolate banana cheese cake, and Haagen-Dazs ice cream, looked too good to pass up, so I had them both.
The personal TV screen seemed larger than the 10.4 inches described on the carrier’s website, as I was able to glance over and watch my neighbor’s screen quite easily, which at times could be somewhat distracting. However, the Dynasty in-flight entertainment guide had 20 pages just for video choices, with an amazing collection of English and Chinese language films, International documentaries and short films, and Taiwan TV shows. Another 20 pages listed music and game options, including Sudoku, 16-tile Mahjong and Chinese checkers.
Between the food offerings (the galley was open during the entire flight, with snacks and drinks available at any time), in-flight entertainment, and the almost lie-flat seat, the 13+ hour flight went surprisingly fast. After a second meal of Caesar salad and wok fried beef with green bell peppers in Chinese barbeque sauce, the aircraft started its slow descent into Osaka, an approach that enabled passengers on the right side of the plane to view the mountains, sea and urban setting of the Osaka metropolitan region.
We landed at Kansai International Airport (KIX), a beautifully designed facility, constructed in 1994, on an artificial island in Osaka Bay. It was 6:20 pm, local time, 25 minutes ahead of schedule, and within fifteen minutes I was through passport control and on a high-speed train to downtown Osaka.
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